Tag Archives: religious liberty

Dialogue, Peace, and Evangelization

11 Mar

Pope Francis5Pope Francis devotes a section of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the role of social dialogue in the promotion of peace (EG 238-58). He considers this a significant part of the Church’s overall mission to carry the Gospel out to all the world. He cites three specific areas of dialogue: with states, with society (including cultures and sciences), and with believers who are not members of the Catholic Church (EG 238).

The Church supports the efforts of the State to promote peace in ways that respond to the dignity of the human person and promote the common good (EG 241). While this may sound too grandiose for the average believer, the Holy Father also reminds us that every baptized person is called to be “a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (EG 239).

Dialogue between science and faith is also part of the work of evangelization at the service of peace. The Holy Father calls for a synthesis of empirical science and other areas of knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. The new evangelization must be attentive to scientific advances and “shed on them the light of faith and the natural law” (EG 242). The Church delights in the progress and potential of science. Problems occur only when science—or faith—exceeds the limit of its respective competence. At that point, the issue is not one of truth, but of ideologies that can only block “the path to authentic, serene, and productive dialogue” (EG 243).

When the Holy Father speaks of “other believers” (EG 238) he is referring to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He sees ecumenism as “a contribution to the unity of the human family” (EG 245). He is painfully conscious of the counter-witness of division among Christians, especially in Asia and Africa. In light of the vast numbers of people who have not received the Gospel, “our commitment to a unity that helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization” (EG 246).

Pope Francis accords Judaism a special place among non-Christian religions. After all, the Church looks upon the Jewish faith as one of the sacred roots of our own Christian identity (cf. Romans 11:16-18). The Holy Father cites our current friendship with the Jewish people as well as our bitter regret for past persecutions and injustices (EG 248). While we must always proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we continue to share the Hebrew Scriptures with them as well as many ethical convictions (EG 249).

The Pope says that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as for other religious communities” (EG 250). Here he stresses the close relationship between dialogue and proclamation. We need to be clear and joyful regarding our own convictions and identity, while also being open to understanding those of other faiths in a spirit of candor and goodwill (EG 251). Pope Francis singles out dialogue with Islam as especially important in our time. One comment he made that I found especially eye-opening was this: “[O]ur respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG 253).

The Holy Father concludes this section with some consideration of religious freedom, a fundamental human right that includes “the freedom to choose the religion that one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (EG 255).  Redefining religious liberty as a right that only applies in private consciences and inside church buildings is “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (EG 255). Respect can be given to non-believers without silencing the convictions of the believing majority. Such a heavy-handed approach can only feed resentment, not  tolerance and peace.

In all of this, the Holy Father is relentlessly stressing the social dimension of the Gospel, which beckons all of us to “get our shoes dirty”—to boldly bring the Gospel to the world in words, attitudes, and deeds (EG 258).

Archbishop Naumann on “Religious Freedom Act”

28 Feb

archbishop NaumannLast week Archbishop Naumann wrote an excellent column for The Leaven on HB 2453, known as the “Religious Freedom Act.” While the proposed legislation has been misrepresented by the opposition, the law is limited to protecting conscience rights in the context of the celebration of marriage. The law would prevent business owners who are opposed to same-sex marriage on moral grounds from being legally coerced into participating in a same-sex “marriage” ceremony and/or reception.

Archbishop Naumann gives compelling reasons why in today’s climate such a law is even necessary. He also emphasizes that HB 2453 would be fairly applied to all citizens:

“The bill is written to protect everyone’s religious freedom, not just those who have moral objections to same-sex marriages. If a business objected to participating in a Catholic wedding, we do not believe our laws or courts should coerce them to do so. We do not believe the state should force anyone to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, unless it is absolutely necessary for the common good and there are no other viable options.”

In case you missed it, the Archbishop’s article appeared on p. 2 of the February 21, 2014 issue of The Leaven, which can be viewed here. For more information on HB 2453, check out this helpful Q and A at the Kansas Catholic Conference site.

Evangelical Discernment

4 Dec

Pope Francis 3In Chapter Two of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis provides the context for his discussion of evangelization in today’s world. His stated goal is to examine the “signs of the times” not from a sociological or quantitative perspective, but rather as part of an “evangelical discernment” (EG 50). What is the Holy Spirit saying to us at this time?

This discernment has two parts. First, he considers societal factors that can hinder the Church’s missionary outreach (EG 51). In a separate post, I will address the second part of the chapter, namely the challenges and temptations faced by pastoral workers.

The Holy Father begins his consideration of societal factors with a resounding criticism of what he calls an economy of “exclusion” and “inequality” (EG 53-54), where many people find themselves marginalized. He considers “trickle-down” economic theories and today’s “culture of prosperity” dehumanizing, such that we become incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.

He goes on to the related topic of the “idolatry of money” and “the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (EG 55).  His reference to ideologies that defend the “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” (EG 56) is hard to understand, because no reputable economist in our culture at least takes such an extreme view.  One also wonders what he makes of the opposite–and arguably more prevalent–problem of a government that is too controlling rather than laissez-faire.

But the Pope’s point here is evangelical, not political: a “deified market” in any form reduces man to a mere consumer, and reflects a rejection of God and the moral order (EG 57). He calls on the rich to “help, respect, and promote the poor” (EG 58), quoting St. John Chrysostom:

“Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

The Holy Father also points out that just as goodness tends to spread, so too does the evil of exclusion and inequality, which makes for a violent world (EG 59). Sustainable, peaceful development is not possible unless we address the evil embedded in unjust social structures.

The Holy Father then turns to some cultural challenges to the new evangelization, noting that these can take the form of persecution and attacks on religious freedom as well as widespread indifference and relativism (EG 61). He says that “in many countries [later citing Africa and Asia] globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting . . . which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated” (EG 62). It surely makes one think about the devastating global effects of exporting America’s secularist and consumerist mentality.

The Pope also mentions other religious movements, from fundamentalist sects to others that promote spirituality without God. On the one hand, this seems to be filling a void in our materialist society, but it can also be a means of exploiting the poor and disenfranchised. Yet, Pope Francis unabashedly says that the Church must take much of the blame for their not turning to the Church instead:

“We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization” (EG 63).

Pope Francis says that the process of secularization tends to reduce the faith to the private and personal, leading to a steady increase in relativism (EG 64). Interestingly, in affirming the Church’s insistence on objective moral norms valid for everyone, the Holy Father cites a document by the U.S. Bishops regarding ministry to persons with same-sex attractions.

The Pope acknowledges that moral relativism, the widespread belief in the absolute rights of individuals to do as they please, and negative aspects of the media and entertainment industry are threatening traditional values, especially in the domain of marriage and family life (EG 62-64). The latter is experiencing “a profound cultural crisis” (EG 66), as marriage is now commonly viewed as “a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (EG 66).

All of this not only affects our ability to pass on the faith to our children, but it also tends to weaken and distort family bonds (EG 67) and our relationships with others. Despite all this, many still recognize the significant, ongoing contributions of the Church to the world (EG 65), including her steadfast intention to respect others, heal wounds, build bridges, and bear one another’s burdens (EG 67).

The Holy Father says it is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel (EG 69). He describes the breakdown in the way the faith has been passed on to young people and what he calls an “exodus” toward other faith communities (EG 70). He identifies many of the causes:

  • a lack of opportunity for dialogue in families
  • the influence of the communications media
  • a relativistic subjectivism
  • unbridled consumerism which feeds the market
  • lack of pastoral care among the poor
  • the failure of our institutions to be welcoming
  • difficulty in [maintaining] the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape

He ends the section by discussing the unique challenges of evangelizing urban cultures (EG 71-75). He finds it curious that the fullness of human history is realized in a city, the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21:1-4). We need to take a fresh look at finding possibilities for prayer and communion that would appeal to the rapidly changing lives of city dwellers. The Pope even calls modern cities “a privileged locus of the new evangelization” (EG 73).

The Pope concludes by noting that today houses and neighborhoods tend to be “built to isolate and protect rather than to connect and integrate” (EG 75). He wants so much more for our neighborhoods and for our Church, for Our Lord desires to pour out abundant life upon our cities (cf. John 10:10).

The Truth Will Set Us Free

28 May

Murray on TIME coverAfter a brief hiatus, we now continue our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) during this Year of Faith with the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). While the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy may be considered the most controversial document of Vatican II in terms of its implementation, Dignitatis Humanae is probably the most controversial in terms of what it actually teaches, and it is a “front-burner” issue for the Church today.

The reason Dignitatis Humanae is so controversial are that it (a) reflects new and diverse responses to changing social conditions (notably the contribution of American theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J.) and (b) strikes a very different tone from a series of papal documents from Gregory XVI to Pius XI on the social kingship of Christ and the desirability of a “confessional state” (i.e., what we would call a “Catholic country”).

Let me try to simplify the issue for us: “Religious liberty” looks one way when the Catholic faith is in power and most people are Catholic or at least Christian, and the issue is how to apply religious truth in a manner that is both robust and yet respectful of the rights of non-believers. It looks another way when, as is more typical in our experience, the Catholic faith is a minority position and the issue is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and religious entities. As the first section Dignitatis Humanae teaches, “Religious freedom, . . . which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.”

Further complicating the situation is American jurisprudence, which today, in my judgment, improperly treats the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment as meaning that there must be an impenetrable wall between Church and State—and really between religion and public life. This distorted emphasis on the Establishment Clause to the detriment of the “Free Exercise” clause has led secularists to narrow the scope of “religious liberty” to what happens in the church building as they bully believers and churches out of the public square.

Exhibit “A” is the HHS mandate.

Another complicating aspect of religious liberty is the widespread misunderstanding of conscience, especially in dissident Catholic circles. I’ve addressed that issue here. The Catechism (no. 1792) acknowledges that “a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” is a “source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.” Even more to the point, Catechism, no. 2039 teaches that “personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

We should not be forced to act against our conscience. By the same token, we are obliged to form our consciences well. Acting according to the dictates of conscience is about doing what is truly good, not whatever I feel like doing at the moment.

Let’s now briefly look at a “top ten” list of principles of religious liberty taken from the opening sections of Dignitatis Humanae. This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains principles that always apply even as cultural conditions change:

(1) We ordinarily cannot be forced to act contrary to our religious beliefs.

“All men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (no. 2)

(2) Religious liberty is an innate right known to us through both faith and reason.

“The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” (no. 2)

(3) Governments have the duty to respect religious liberty.

“This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” (no. 2)

(4) We must seek the truth.

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons–that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility–that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.” (no. 2)

(5) We must strive to live the truth.

“They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” (no. 2)

(6) God’s law is written on the human heart.

“The highest norm of human life is the divine law–eternal, objective and universal–whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.” (no. 3)

(7) The truth must be sought freely.

“Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.” (no. 3)

(8) We must adhere to the truth.

“As the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.” (no. 3)

(9) Personal and societal harm comes from suppressing the free exercise of religion.

“On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.” (no. 3)

(10) Religious freedom applies to religious communities and groups (i.e., the Church), and not just individual believers.

“The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.” (no. 4)

Holy Terror?

25 Feb

Nostra AetateThe next item in our survey of the documents of Vatican II during this “Year of Faith” is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). It’s the shortest Vatican II document, containing only five numbered paragraphs. Schematically, it is a bridge between the Decree on Ecumenism, which pertains to fostering the unity of all Christians, and the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, which pertains to bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Woe to the Church if she ever fails to proclaim Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16), yet the Church recognizes that we must build on points of agreement with other faiths and work for the common good. In this regard, Nostra Aetate singles out Islam (no. 3) and Judaism (no. 4) for special treatment. The Declaration affirms that all people must be treated with respect, and the Church reproves any unjust discrimination based on race, color, condition of life, or religion as being foreign to the mind of Christ (no. 5).

The following quote in paragraph 2 aptly summarizes the approach of Nostra Aetate:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [other] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

“The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.”

Discussion of Nostra Aetate reminds me of the time that a student of mine asked me to explain how terrorism could possibly be justified as doing “God’s will.” I think that’s an important issue for us to consider at its root.

Obviously this issue arises in the context of Islam, since at least some adherents of that religion support—and act upon—the notion that terrorism can be justified as an act of jihad, or “holy war.”

Pope Benedict XVI addressed this complex issue in his widely publicized 2006 lecture at Regensburg University in Germany, in which he embodies the principles of Nostra Aetate. The Pope stressed Christianity’s view that God is intrinsically linked to reason. The Greek word for reason, rationality, and intelligibility is logos, which is commonly translated as verbum (Latin) or “word” (English) in Scripture. In fact, Christ is presented as the eternal Word of God incarnate. We see that point clearly made at the outset of the fourth Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:1, 14).

I should clarify here that the God of Christianity is not mere rationality personified, but rather is more fundamentally a Father who acts in the objectively best interests of His children. Christ is the eternal Son of God who came to reveal the Father’s saving love for us.

Islam, on the other hand, stresses God’s absolute transcendence. The God of Islam immeasurably exceeds our limited human comprehension. That’s certainly true, as we all can agree that God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Is. 55:8-9). But the Muslim people do not see in Christ God’s incarnate love for man, which has led God to make Himself known to us. Instead, according to the Holy Father, Islam teaches that God’s “will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”

The risk of this image of the divine is that the irrationality of violence can potentially be justified if someone believes it is “God’s will” or the “will of Allah.”

So the question boils down to whether God can and does act irrationally (or super-rationally). We say no, but Islam says yes.

As Pope John Paul II stressed in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, at the heart of the fall of Adam and Eve is the rejection of God’s fatherhood. Pope Benedict, in his Regensburg lecture, was trying to explain how all this has played out on a philosophical level. He offers Christianity as a means of bridging the gap between an “extreme” faith without reason (“fundamentalism” or “fideism”) and “extreme” (and often impoverished) reason without faith (“materialism,” “secularism,” etc.).

Without some common ground, there simply is no basis for Islam and the secular West to understand each other and work toward the common good.

For the secularist, the rejection of God’s fatherhood is a rejection of God altogether, though such rejection is typically accompanied by idolatry (e.g., consumerism, hedonism, etc.) and diversions (e.g., TV). The former seeks to fill the void left by God, the latter seeks to ignore the emptiness.

For the Muslim, God is not a Father but rather a tyrant or task master in the sense that His sovereign will is not tethered to rationality or “the good.” God is so far removed from man that it’s offensive to Muslims even to suggest that that God may be our “Father.”

That’s the amazing thing about our faith. When Christ teaches us to pray, the first words out of His mouth are “Our Father.” And when He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts, we instinctively call out “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6) and become participants in God’s inner life (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4).

Muslims need reason. The decadent West needs God. And all of us need Jesus Christ, who shows us the way to the Father.

U.S. Bishops Announce Five-Point Plan

17 Dec

usccb-logoEarlier this month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced a campaign of prayer and fasting in 2013 for the “rebuilding of a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.”

The campaign, which will begin the Sunday after Christmas, “is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice--it’s meant to be simple," said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “It’s not meant to be another program but rather part of a movement for life, marriage, and religious liberty, which engages the New Evangelization and can be incorporated into the Year of Faith.”

In addition, as a culture that tends to make “New Year’s resolutions,” we do well as individuals, families, and parishes to incorporate this plan--especially the call to abstain from meat and fast on all Fridays--into our own lives. In doing so, we would be following the edifying example of Archbishop Naumann.

The campaign, which will begin the Sunday after Christmas, has five parts: Continue reading

Statements from the U.S. Bishops and the Pope on Tomorrow’s Election

5 Nov

The Kansas Bishops:

http://www.kscathconf.org/election-2012/

Certain political issues place a special claim upon the Catholic conscience. These issues, where matters of intrinsic evil directly intersect with public policy, require unity from the Catholic faithful. Something is understood to be intrinsically evil if it is evil in and of itself, regardless of our motives or the circumstances. The Catholic faith requires Catholics to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the redefinition of marriage. These matters are not negotiable, for they contradict the natural law, available to everyone through human reasoning, and they violate unchanging and unchangeable Catholic moral principles.

The Catholic faith requires Catholics to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the redefinition of marriage.

While these issues are often adjudicated in the political arena, they are not, strictly speaking, “political issues.” Instead, they are fundamentally moral questions involving core Catholic teachings on what is right and what is wrong. Catholics who depart from Church teaching on these issues separate themselves from full communion with the Church.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia:

http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=36380

I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.

http://www.hliworldwatch.org/?p=1898

I think many of the Democrats have [taken] Democrat Catholic votes for granted because they’ll go with them no matter what the Party position might be on abortion. That’s why the position of the Democrat Party has gotten worse, and worse, and worse as time goes on because Catholics haven’t abandoned them as they’ve moved in that direction. So we just have to be insistent on that Catholic identity takes precedence over everything. Continue reading